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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Kay Hagar

Challenging Tradition: Reflections on Celebrating Our 2020 Winter Holidays

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

As an expressive arts therapist, I've played in the arts long enough to treasure the value of letting go of what I think I'm creating. When that unexpected drip rolls down my painting or when that stray chord announces itself when I'm playing the piano, I know the only thing to do is find a reality in which those unexpected experiences make some sense. Any attempts at correction will halt the flow of my creation and that flow is far more important than my mistakes. This practice of learning to dance with the unexpected and right myself in a new reality is with me in this pandemic as our winter holidays crash on the shores of Covid19.

The virus is bringing a sour note to our usual winter song. We may have known about the possibility or even the likelihood, that a global pandemic could someday make its way around the world, but psychologically, we were woefully unprepared for the reality of it actually happening. I know it is affecting us deeply, but unless we have lost a loved one, it is hard to have a felt body sense of all the death surrounding us. If we are lucky to be among the survivors, we are wading through murky waters, learning to live with the pandemic and making choices about how to cope with it.

The winter holidays bring a particular grief, because more than anything else, we expect to be gathering with family and friends of all ages, to celebrate our long held holiday traditions. Now, we live in a reality, where we are being told that that is the one thing that we absolutely should not do. We are struggling. I have my own version of the struggle as I watch my little grandsons grow up on the computer screen, whole developmental stages, like learning to talk, are all experienced virtually, something I have surrendered to.

As Thanksgiving was approaching, I knew it was time to dance with the unknown. Instead of gathering with family, I would be dining alone. I planned ahead, created a wonderful dinner for myself and when I took this picture, I took it with history in mind. This Thanksgiving is not likely to be enfolded in the jumbled memory of all the Thanksgiving celebrations I've experienced. This one will stand out in my mind, my picture a snapshot of the irregular moment that Thanksgiving 2020 brings to us. Titling my photo Thanksgiving for One, I felt my connection to my ancestors, who over eons of time have experienced irregularities, things they didn't expect, and dark times they could not control. They were called upon to keep the spirit of tradition alive, even in the midst of all the darkness. With that thought, I was strengthened in my resolve to live this moment to the fullest, hold the sadness of our times in my heart, be thankful for all that I have, and in spite of the grief, also allow the joy.

Now our holidays that celebrate the light in the darkness are looming on the horizon. I celebrate Christmas and I found myself putting up my tree right after Thanksgiving. I've never done that so soon before, but I figured this was the year to dive right in. Finding The Messiah on my playlist, I filled the room with music, retrieved the boxes of Christmas decorations from closet and set about decorating my little tree. In the boxes, I found a treasure chest of memories as I unwrapped the ornaments and decorations I had made or been given.

I made these polymer clay ornaments in the Sixties, before I even had children. They, obviously reflect the energy of those times and remind me of my youthful innocence.

The star, the butterfly and the bell were made by my dear friend Lorraine who died of breast cancer almost 20 years ago. My little boys there in the center are all grown up now. The pictures of the youngest two were taken at the Russian River, on a family camping trip with Lorraine and her family. Those little ones are now in their 40's, and my eldest just turned 50!

There were ornaments from my batiking time and more, including this wreath, from my quilting period. So much family history told in the story of handmade creations. They represent those moments when we, the makers, listened to a call from within that urged us to create. All of this was long before I had ever heard of expressive arts therapy, but I did know that without creating things with my own hands, and without my hands making music on the piano, my life would have been diminished, my light, dimmed.

Years ago I gave up thinking about Christmas as just the day of December 25th. Instead, I've kept my eye out and my heart open, to special moments occurring between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. When something touches me deeply, leaves me wide eyed with amazement or brings me joy, I tell myself, "Ahh...this is Christmas!" It is a practice I recommend, especially in the middle of this pandemic. Its a way to find the true spirit of the season as we live without our usual celebrations.

That day when I decorated my tree, was Christmas for me, as are my dawn walks on the Mendocino Headlands. On those mornings, when I have so recently emerged from the wild landscape of the dreamtime, I joyfully experience the waking life landscape of the wild ocean. Listening to the roar of the waves, watching the kites hunt in the meadow, and hearing the Raven's caws, I find myself imagining it possible, that I still speak the language of the Great Mother, that I am part of all of creation, and in those moments I find my deepest belonging. That is Christmas to me. Each time I stumble into blessed moments like these, it is like lighting a candle in the darkness.

If we can't be with family on Christmas this year, it will be sad. I'll especially miss being with my little grandsons who are young enough to still live with both feet in magic and wonder. But if we can zoom our lens way out, to the very big picture of our lives, on Christmas Eve, we can meet together somewhere under the canopy of the starry night sky. If we are young enough at heart, we might just see Santa and his reindeer fly over our town as he flew over theirs. In that big picture, we are all together and with us will be the memories of those who have gone before us. All of us are dancing together around the Tree of Life, each with our own time here on earth. Next to that tree floats the river of time. On Christmas 2020, it is our turn to experience pandemic times while we wait for a vaccine and look for spring to carry us toward the light once again. These are not times that will be easily forgotten. Lets live them well. However you celebrate, may many blessings come your way. Be well.

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